From Clowns to Idols: The Latest Congressional Candidates Run The Gamut

clay-aiken-congressAs the primary season begins to heat up, the candidates are beginning to throw their hats into the ring. Given that the odds are stacked in favor of the incumbents, there are two routes to success: look for an open seat or take on the role of sacrificial lamb. And if you’re looking for an open seat and you’re a Republican, you can’t possibly position yourself as too conservative.

In that case, no one has better bonafides than Bob Marshall, a state legislator in Virginia. Marshall has declared himself a candidate for the seat currently held by retiring Rep. Frank Wolf. While he is the seventh Republican candidate to seek the job, no one is quite like Marshall. As the author of the state’s 2006 anti-marriage ballot measure, Marshall has compiled an antigay record that is second to none. And he clearly plans to make that known to voters.

In a letter to potential supporters, Marshall outlined his accomplishments (for want of a better word), with the marriage ban chief among them. “Equality of persons does not mean equality of behavior,” Marshall wrote. “I believe in and have fought for equality for all of my 23 years in Richmond, but I believe in the traditional purpose and sanctity of marriage, and believe that governments should respect the concept of traditional marriage.”

Such rhetoric sets Tea Party hearts aflutter, but Marshall fails to reach even that low-level of eloquence. In 2010, he got himself into trouble for suggesting that women who have abortions are more likely to have children with disabilities “[b]ecause when you abort the firstborn of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children.” He also has a lousy track record of moving up the political food chain, having lost two tries in the past for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.

On the more hopeful front, openly gay former American Idol contestant Clay Aiken has officially launched his campaign for Congress against incumbent Republican Renee Ellmers with a video that talks openly about his difficult upbringing. Aiken has an uphill battle and won’t be the only Democrat seeking the nomination, but his campaign got off to an affecting start.

In the video, Aiken speaks about how his mother fled his abusive father, ending up at a friend’s house, where mother and one-year-old Clay slept on a mattress on the living room floor for eight months. He also speaks about how his mother protected him, not just from his father, but from “as many harsh realities as she could.”

Aiken says he has been fortunate because of the American Idol “gold ticket,” but that he was shaped by a childhood where Christmas might mean one gift and clothes were second-hand. “For most Americans, there are no golden tickets — at least not like the kind you see on TV,” he said. “More families are struggling today than at any time in our history, and here in North Carolina, we’ve suffered more than our share of pain.”

Aiken makes the standard pitch that he is not a politician and that his election would represent a change in attitude in D.C. He also attacks Ellmers for voting for military budget cuts, which is one way to win votes in North Carolina. It’s a good start. Let’s see if Aiken can build on it.